Chicago International Film Festival 2011: A day-by-day guide to week one
We review 70 titles in a definitive guide to the festival's first week.
All screenings take place at the AMC River East 21 (322 E Illinois St) unless otherwise noted.
For advance tickets, call 312-332-FILM, go to ticketmaster.com/chicagofilmfestival or stop by the festival office (30 E Adams St, Suite 800). For passes, go to chicagofilmfestival.com.
11:30am The Screen Illusion Dir. Mathieu Amalric. 2010. 77mins. France. Amalric transplants Corneille’s 1636 play to the age of Xbox. As with modernized Shakespeare, the gimmick defies logic, but the cast deserves credit for seeming contemporary while spouting archaic dialogue.—A.A. Dowd
Noon Black Perspectives: Building a Community This panel focuses specifically on production and distribution of African-American cinema in the Chicago area.
12:30pm Southwest Dir. Eduardo Nunes. 2010. 128mins. Brazil. Shot in gorgeous black and white, Nunes’s magical-realist fable concerns a woman who lives out her entire life in the space of a single day. Neither its outlandish, Benjamin Button conceit nor its often-stunning visuals can lend the film a heartbeat; its solemnity grows wearisome almost immediately.—A.A. Dowd
12:35pm Kinyarwanda Dir. Alrick Brown. 2011. 100mins. USA. Director Brown weaves together stories of the Rwandan genocide and its aftermath, focusing on characters from both the Hutu and Tutsi sides. The movie gets lost in trying too hard to connect all its subjects, but this attempt to tell smaller stories against the backdrop of enormous tragedy is admirable.—Jonathan Messinger
12:45pm Fat, Bald, Short Man Dir. Carlos Osuna. 2011. 91mins. Colombia. In this mundane animated film, notary worker Antonio Farfan finds himself exploited by his coworkers and family, but things begin to pick up when he joins a support group for shy people and gets a new boss who shares his most noticeable physical attributes.—Jessica Johnson
* 1pm The Giants Dir. Bouli Lanners. 2011. 84mins. Belgium. Dreamy portraits of unsupervised adolescence go down much smoother when the kids doing the gallivanting can act. The Giants’ latchkey heroes—two brothers and a local chum, left to fend for themselves in rural Belgium—are played by a believable trio of teenage troublemakers. Playful and naturalistic, the film laces its endless-summer wonder with a hint of impending danger.—A.A. Dowd
* 1:15pm On the Bridge Dir. Olivier Morel. 2011. 96mins. France/USA. What begins as a probing examination of post-traumatic stress disorder eventually becomes something richer and thornier: a condemnation of the U.S. military’s failure to provide returning veterans the psychological assistance they need.—A.A. Dowd
2:30pm Ticket to Paradise Dir. Gerardo Chijona. 2010. 88mins. Cuba. A young Cuban woman leaves home and her abusive father and ends up getting in too deep with fellow kids on the street. Not available for review.
* 2:40pm Michael Dir. Markus Schleinzer. 2011. 96mins. Austria. Borrowing heavily from the Michael Haneke School of Audience Harassment, Schleinzer’s profoundly uncomfortable procedural concerns a mild-mannered office functionary who keeps an imprisoned boy at home as a sex slave. Finding exceedingly dark comedy in the escalating difficulties the man encounters covering his tracks, Michael will—to put it mildly—not be to every taste, but it approaches its subject with queasy conviction.—Ben Kenigsberg
2:50pm American Translation Dirs. Pascal Arnold and Jean-Marc Barr. 2011. 90mins. France. A young woman falls for a French lothario who’s keeping a couple of movie-ready secrets. Not available for review.
3pm On the Edge Dir. Leila Kilani. 2011. 106mins. Morocco/Germany. Women at a shrimp-processing plant in Tangier plot a path to greater prosperity. Not available for review.
* 3:10pm Tomboy Dir. Céline Sciamma. 2011. 84mins. France. Gender deception is the name of the game in this puckish, autumnal comedy about a wiry, kempt-haired female 4th grader named Laure (a film-carrying Zoé Héran) whose physical resemblance to a boy leads (forces?) her to tell her peers that she is one. Beautifully written and directed by Sciamma (Water Lilies), her film is deceptively slight and perfectly judged.—David Jenkins
* 3:30pm Oslo, August 31st Dir. Joachim Trier. 2011. 96mins. Norway. An ex-junkie attempts to restart his life but receives only ineffectual help from the friends who’ve long since passed him by. A major step forward from Trier (Reprise), this is such a first-rate pushing-30 movie that the drug material is almost incidental.—Ben Kenigsberg
* 3:45pm Without Dir. Mark Jackson. 2011. 87mins. USA. After accepting an elder-caregiving job in the boonies, a teenage girl (Joslyn Jensen) comes down with a bad case of cabin fever. Painful memories of an old lover and the advances of a local jock further frazzle her already shaky mental state. The film’s escalating tension never quite pays off, but as Repulsion knockoffs go, it beats the hell out of Black Swan.—A.A. Dowd
4:45pm Corpo Celeste Dir. Alice Rohrwacher. 2011. 90mins. Italy. A 13-year-old girl grapples with her ambiguous relationship to Catholicism on the eve of her confirmation. Solidly made, Rohrwacher’s coming-of-age drama nevertheless feels alternately familiar and unnecessarily oblique.—Ben Kenigsberg
* 5pm Martha Marcy May Marlene Dir. Sean Durkin. 2011. 120mins. USA. The name-changing title character (Elizabeth Olsen) escapes from a cult but has trouble discerning which is stranger—her real family or her fake one—as she reacclimates to normal life. Moving fluidly between the character’s shaky deprogramming and flashbacks to her initiation, Durkin’s startlingly confident, boldly formalist debut is gripping right up to its lacerating final cut.—Ben Kenigsberg
5:10pm Circus Columbia Dir. Danis Tanovic. 2010. 113mins. Bosnia-Herzegovina. Divko (Miki Manojlovic) returns to his village in the former Yugoslavia to flaunt his wealth, beautiful girlfriend and fancy car to the wife (Lost’s Mira Furlan) who refused to leave with him 20 years ago. Tanovic’s juxtaposition of petty dramas with a looming war is one-note, but the ironies are potent.—Alison Willmore
* 5:15pm The Kid with a Bike Dirs. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. 2011. 87mins. Belgium. The Dardennes stand accused of repeating themselves (again) with this story of an abandoned child and the woman who cares for him, but cross-film references are the movie’s most interesting element: The boy, shunned by a father who refuses to accept responsibility, is essentially an older version of L’Enfant’s newborn. Fans shouldn’t miss this, although it’s more sentimental and—with regard to Cécile de France’s surrogate parent—less convincing than the directors’ other movies.—Ben Kenigsberg
5:30pm Le Havre Dir. Aki Kaurismäki. 2011. 93mins. Finland/France. A shoe-shiner in the eponymous Norman port city helps shield a refugee boy from deportation at the hands of a comically stern detective. Finnish deadpan-meister Kaurismäki’s first French-language production charms up to a point, though the raves from Cannes are baffling—for the man who made Hamlet Goes Business and The Man Without a Past, this is minor.—Ben Kenigsberg
* 5:45pm The Jewel Dir. Andrea Molaioli. 2011. 110mins. Italy. Molaioli’s loose take on the machinations leading up to the controversial collapse of one of Italy’s most profitable companies is both a gripping corporate thriller and a timely encapsulation of the current climate of economic strife. Toni Servillo is extraordinary as the beleaguered CFO fending off inevitable destruction.—Derek Adams
6pm Take Me Home Dir. Sam Jaeger. 2011. 97mins. USA. Jaeger casts himself as a struggling NYC photographer moonlighting behind the wheel of an unregistered taxi. His real-life wife plays the married woman who hops in his cab and finagles a ride across the country. The leads have chemistry—let’s hope so, for the sake of their marriage—but the vehicle they’re trapped in hits every contrivance on the road-movie highway.—A.A. Dowd
7:15pm The Woman in the Fifth Dir. Pawel Pawlikowski. 2011. 83mins. France/Poland/U.K. Ethan Hawke plays an American professor who travels to Paris to win back his estranged wife and daughter; he quickly becomes involved in assorted intrigues that seem derived from a failed study of vintage Polanski. Hoping for a good ending? You lose.—Ben Kenigsberg
7:30pm What Love May Bring Dir. Claude Lelouch. 2010. 120mins. France. The second Lelouch title in the festival (see From One Film to Another, Fri 7) follows a young woman through the first and second world wars. Lelouch will attend this screening. Not available for review.
7:45pm Land of Oblivion Dir. Michale Boganim. 2011. 115mins. France/Germany/Poland/Ukraine. A Deer Hunter–esque wedding sequence is disrupted when the groom is called away; there’s trouble at the plant over in Chernobyl. Flash forward to a decade later: His bride (Bond girl Olga Kurylenko) works as a tour guide in Pripyat, willfully oblivious to radiation. Fragmented, surreal and intermittently Tarkovskyian in its stillness, the film offers a haunting if elusive portrait of a city where time stopped.—Ben Kenigsberg
* 8pm Miss Bala Dir. Gerardo Naranjo. 2011. 113mins. Mexico. Naranjo’s relentless procedural follows a Baja beauty queen (Stephanie Sigman) as she becomes an unwilling pawn for various parties in the Mexican drug trade. The film’s rigor and use of real time suggest an action film done in the style of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.—Ben Kenigsberg
8:05pm The Return of Joe Rich Dir. Sam Auster. 2011. 95mins. USA. Not to be confused with opening night’s The Last Rites of Joe May, this hapless Chicago gangster flick plunders Scorsese’s greatest hits before making clear that it considers itself some sort of parody, in which a ne’er-do-well (Sam Witwer), hamstrung in this economy, attempts to make it in the mob. The tone is unstable and the editing (meatball wipes?) is amateur hour.—Ben Kenigsberg
8:25pm Kshay (Corrode) Dir. Karan Gour. 2011. 92mins. India. This moody black-and-white tale of obsession struggles under the weight of overbearing symbolism, as a housewife pours out her lingering grief over a recent miscarriage into an infatuation with obtaining a statue of the goddess Lakshmi that she and her husband cannot afford.—Jessica Johnson
8:30pm The Forgiveness of Blood Dir. Joshua Marston. 2011. 109mins. Albania/USA/Denmark/Italy. The American director of Maria Full of Grace relocates to Albania for this surprisingly dull take on the phenomenon of local blood feuds. Even the inciting incident, a stabbing, is discussed rather than dramatized.—Ben Kenigsberg
9:45pm Love Actually…Sucks! Dir. Scud. 2011. 82mins. Hong Kong. Six racy, supposedly scandalous tales illustrate the title principle. The festival has this labeled as being for “mature audiences only.” Not available for review.
10:30pm Gandu Dir. Kaushik Mukherjee. 2010. 85mins. India. Gandu’s title character (the word means “asshole”) raps to the camera, steals money from his mother while she’s having sex and gets high with his rickshaw-driver best friend. This material wouldn’t be out of place in an allegedly edgy indie, but Mukherjee’s film gets points for energy and for venturing into what is, in Indian cinema, largely unexplored territory.—Alison Willmore
10:30pm The Holding Dir. Susan Jacobson. 2011. 93mins. U.K. In this talky but reasonably suspenseful potboiler, a desperate single mother shacks up with a mysterious stranger who claims to be an old friend of her dead husband; predictably, his motives prove less than pure. The performances and milieu are more compelling than the plot, which eventually conforms to hoary thriller conventions.—A.A. Dowd
10:40pm A Lonely Place to Die Dir. Julian Gilbey. 2011. 99mins. U.K. Those with a fear of heights would do best avoiding this thriller set in the Scottish Highlands; the steep inclines and unforgiving drops prove much more terrifying than the plot, which concerns a group of mountain climbers who stumble into a Deliverance-style obstacle course.—A.A. Dowd
10:50pm Leave It on the Floor Dir. Sheldon Larry. 2011. 109mins. USA. Shunned by his mom for being gay, a young man falls in with a group of drag queens and transgender performers in L.A.’s ballroom scene, finding love and friendship. Aggressively campy and earnest, Larry’s musical makes Rent look minimalist.—Ben Kenigsberg